2016 Awards Profile: ‘Untitled Howard Hughes Project’ from Warren Beatty

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Welcome to the 2016 Awards Profiles series, where we talk about high and low-profile films coming to a theater near you at some point this year.  We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not either by quality or being pushed back to the following year.  For the next eight weeks, we will bring you a film every weekday to talk about their potential.  If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below.  If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

Directed By: Warren Beatty

Written By: Warren Beatty

Cast: Warren Beatty, Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Taissa Farmiga, Candice Bergen, Alec Baldwin, Chace Crawford, Haley Bennett, Ed Harris, Oliver Platt, Steve Coogan and Megan Hilty

Synopsis (From IMDB): A story centered on an affair Howard Hughes had in the late years of his life with a younger woman.

Why it Could Succeed:

Viewed as a pseudo-sequel to Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004), this untitled project centering on the latter years of Hollywood tycoon Howard Hughes – here played by the iconic Warren Beatty, who hasn’t starred in a film since 2001’s Town & Country with the late Gary Shandling – could spark interest from Scorsese devotees and the historical reflective-loving Academy itself. Helping matters is the fact that Beatty extends his involvement beyond the frame. He wrote, produced, directed and ultimately starred in this passion project of his, making it a must-see event that celebrates a living legend returning to the world of cinema by shedding light on a Hollywood figure of equal notability. With the descent into madness all but complete in the final moments of The Aviator, one has to be curious to see how Hughes will spend the remainder of his days in luxurious insanity almost ten years after “the way of the future.”

Large, talented ensembles have been nabbing the “Best Picture” prize the past few years, and by the looks of this cast we possibly have another repeat on our hands. Alden Ehrenreich and Lily Collins are the two leads of the film whose forbidden romance is intruded upon by the jealous, meddling and domineering life force that is Howard Hughes, with whom the pair is contracted under. Both up-and-coming stars have had fantasy vehicles that pushed them into the mainstream fold (Beautiful Creatures and Mirror, Mirror), but their talent was overshadowed by the less-than-positive reception for those films. Thankfully, their resume has only expanded since then, and the pair are now poised to flock a legion of young fans to the cinema without dampening their credibility to their scrupulous older peers. Finally, Annette Bening’s inclusion is sure to draw some enthused eyeballs – Bening and Beatty are revered as a golden couple in Hollywood, the “Brangelina” of their generation.

Will Lily Collins become the Academy's newest "It" girl?
Will Lily Collins become the Academy’s newest “It” girl?

Why it Could Fail:

Even though Reds is unquestionably one of the staple biographical dramas of the 1980s, Beatty hasn’t directed a feature film (sorry, TV specials don’t count) since 1998’s Bulworth. With four consecutive directorial efforts met with critical acclaim, you’d think Beatty was the Ben Affleck of his day…and yet he bowed out while the iron was hot. All that time away from the industry since then could mean we’re in store for a weathered, rustier Warren Beatty who might not be in top form like he was during his renaissance man heydays. Given that his peers in the same age group never even entertained the thought of retirement or respite – and have kept going as passionately as ever with their artistic endeavors to this day – it does make me question Beatty’s work ethic, made even worse by the fact that the film has yet to be announced for any festivals or even has a cemented title in place. Plus, shooting for the film wrapped two years ago — yikes!

Of course, we have to address the elephants in the room, which are the specters of both Scorsese’s The Aviator and Howard Hughes himself hanging over this project. Comparisons to the epic biopic (despite its flaws, The Aviator is one of the most bombastically engrossing biographical dramas of the past fifteen years) are sure to hit the ground almost immediately, either instantly sinking Beatty’s comeback flick or buoying it all the way to the Dolby Theatre for next year’s Oscar ceremony. Honestly, this could be to The Aviator what Douglas McGrath’s Infamous was to Bennett Miller’s Capote, a well-meaning yet unarguably second-rate portrait of an American icon the public can’t stop digging into. I hope I’m wrong, but the delays and Beatty’s reemergence after so many years out of the limelight have me legitimately worried.

Hollywood's rising star could be campaigned "Lead Actor"...or overshadowed by Warren Beatty as the infamous Howard Hughes
Hollywood’s rising star could be campaigned “Lead Actor”…or overshadowed by Warren Beatty as the infamous Howard Hughes

Awards Speculation:

Phew…this is a laundry list. Warren Beatty could most certainly be up for a multitude of honors, namely directing, writing, producing…and of course starring. This begs the question of which actor category 20th Century Fox will campaign Beatty in – sure, this film does deal with Hughes and his notoriety, but it primarily focuses on two innocent individuals affected by the Hollywood tyrant’s severe mood swings. Veteran thespians tend to do better when campaigned in “Supporting Actor,” especially if there’s enough evidence to support a push for them in said category in the first place. That means Ehrenreich is possibly getting the prime “Lead Actor” push, with his fellow onscreen love interest Lily Collins campaigned in “Best Actress.” Wouldn’t that be sort of adorable if Bening and Beatty both walked away with golden statues in the same year for the same film? History is in the making, folks!

Since this is a biopic of the highest Hollywood order, expect a slew of tech nods if the love for this film reaches Venus. Just for the record, the number to beat The Aviator in nominations would be “12,” an enormous hurdle that only a man who directed four actors to Oscar nominations could accomplish. Beatty, that man is you, so don’t fail your supporters itching for more AMPAS love en masse.

Oscar Potential:
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor – Alden Ehrenreich (or Warren Beatty)
Best Actress – Lily Collins
Best Supporting Actor – Warren Beatty (or Alden Ehrenreich), Matthew Broderick, Ed Harris or Martin Sheen
Best Supporting Actress – Annette Bening or Taissa Farmiga
Best Original Screenplay
Best Film Editing
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design
Best Sound Mixing
Best Production Design
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Best Original Score